Open Access Research article

Population movement can sustain STI prevalence in remote Australian indigenous communities

Ben B Hui1*, Richard T Gray1, David P Wilson1, James S Ward2, Anthony M A Smith3, David J Philip1, Matthew G Law1, Jane S Hocking4 and David G Regan1

Author affiliations

1 The Kirby Institute, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia

2 Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, Alice Springs, NT 0871, Australia

3 Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Victoria 3000, Australia

4 Centre for Women’s Health, Gender and Society, The University of Melbourne, Carlton, Victoria 3053, Australia

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Citation and License

BMC Infectious Diseases 2013, 13:188  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-13-188

Published: 25 April 2013



For almost two decades, chlamydia and gonorrhoea diagnosis rates in remote Indigenous communities have been up to 30 times higher than for non-Indigenous Australians. The high levels of population movement known to occur between remote communities may contribute to these high rates.


We developed an individual-based computer simulation model to study the relationship between population movement and the persistence of gonorrhoea and chlamydia transmission within hypothetical remote communities.


Results from our model suggest that short-term population movement can facilitate gonorrhoea and chlamydia persistence in small populations. By fixing the number of short-term travellers in accordance with census data, we found that these STIs can persist if at least 20% of individuals in the population seek additional partners while away from home and if the time away from home is less than 21 days. Periodic variations in travel patterns can contribute to increased sustainable levels of infection. Expanding existing STI testing and treatment programs to cater for short-term travellers is shown to be ineffective due to their short duration of stay. Testing and treatment strategies tailored to movement patterns, such as encouraging travellers to seek testing and treatment upon return from travel, will likely be more effective.


High population mobility is likely to contribute to the high levels of STIs observed in remote Indigenous communities of Australia. More detailed data on mobility patterns and sexual behaviour of travellers will be invaluable for designing and assessing STI control programs in highly mobile communities.

Mobility; Indigenous population; Remote communities; Chlamydia; Gonorrhoea